Uber in Oakland, what does it mean? The tech scene weighs in

Will Uber help kickstart Oakland's tech renaissance, or will it kill what makes the city special?

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
September 24, 2015
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On Wednesday Uber, the highest valued company in the world, announced that it is coming to Oakland!

The company is buying the Sears building, for a total of 330,000 square feet of space. The Sears building can house 3,000 employees, and this move would allow Uber to possibly become Oakland's largest employer that isn’t a government agency or medical center.

This is obviously a big deal for Oakland, a city that has been seeing something of an emerging tech ecosystem in recent years. 

But is this actually a good thing for the city and the people who live there? Will Uber's presence help the ecosystem flourish, or will it be the beginning of Oakland becoming like the rest of the Bay Area: overpriced and essentially uninhabitable for the average worker? 

Who better to ask than those who live and work there already, and have deep ties to the city of Oakland. The reaction to the news was overall pretty positive, though there was some trepidation for what it may mean going forward.

Bart Myers, founder and CEO of Countable:"Uber's move to Oakland is huge for Oakland and, in my opinion, long overdue. I'm frankly surprised that more large tech companies haven't made the move. It's a smart move. Oakland offers so much - lower cost, easy access to SF via BART, less congestion and access to many of the same amenities."


Mitch Kapor, founder of the Kapor Center for Social Impact : "As early investors in Uber, we are pleased to welcome them to Oakland, and happy that their new office is just two blocks away from our own.

Uber’s decision reflects how Oakland's tech scene is becoming more dynamic than ever. We moved here 3 years ago to tap into the diverse talent pool of this community, and I’m confident that Uber will benefit from the unique energy of Oakland.

We’ve had a long relationship with the company, and Freada was recently invited to lead a hidden bias talk with their employees and executives. This move is a tremendous opportunity for Oakland and also for the larger goal of bringing new ideas, experiences and perspectives into tech. We look forward to working with Uber."

Aaron Wadler, co-founder and CEO of ShopPad: "Oakland is a wonderful city with a beautiful and diverse population. The city and her citizens deserve to participate in the boom and prosperity of the greater region. I am excited to see a large employer choose to invest in downtown Oakland; creating jobs and opportunities for the community."


Brennen Byrne, co-founder and CEO of Clef: "Working in Oakland, we've known that bigger companies would eventually notice this amazing city, even if we didn't know which company would come first. Uber is going to bring new opportunities to the city and a lot of challenges — I hope they join folks already working to make Oakland tech more inclusive so that their impact is as positive as possible."

Ian Ross, founder and CEO of OppSites: "As I'm sure most would agree, this is quite a significant milestone in recognition of the great strides the city has made to revitalize Downtown. One of the greatest lessons to be gleaned from this purchase, and as evidenced in the revitalization of San Francisco's mid-market, is that companies which locate in vibrant, walkable urban areas have a competitive advantage when attempting to attract and retain talent in what is a greatly competitive environment for new employees. Uber's success is predicated on integrating private automobile trips within a share economy, thus reducing the need for automobile ownership, rental, and the associated costs and risks, yet their management clearly targeted Downtown Oakland, one of the region's most transit accessible neighborhoods - in accordance with their understanding of the life-style preferences of their current and future staff. 

OppSites assists communities to unlock the value of underutilized property, especially where new development supports their goals for becoming more economically and environmentally sustainable. Of course, this investment by Uber, and the 2,000 plus employees that are expected to work in the east bay will have a great multiplier effect, increasing the value of adjacent properties, while driving demand for business services, retail and restaurants. The other likely impact is that such a move will most certainly drive demand for what is already an arguably overheated housing market.

The city should consider this milestone a great success, and with this success comes great responsibility to ensure that Downtown and adjacent neighborhoods continue to grow while protecting and enhancing the quality of life for existing and future residents."

Jonathan Cobb, founder and CEO of Cloudstead: "At this point I think any attention on the tech scene in Oakland is a good one. To have an existing, successful and well-known tech company move in can only help. I do worry somewhat about rents going up and the cost of doing business in Oakland rising, but some of that is inevitable as growth happens."


Adam KupermanCommunity Manager at BriteHub: "The move is a great step in the right direction for Downtown Oakland. The city has so much potential and this is hopefully a trigger to bring additional investment - not only to downtown and not only in the sense of attracting tech companies to office here - but for the greater city. Oakland can catalyze reinvestment by continuing to attract a diversified demographic of workers and residents. We hope the city continues to focus on reinvigorating the manufacturing industry that has a rich history in the city - more jobs for more people. The solution is to attract more than just the tech industry in order to build a stronger economy for the entire region.

Oakland has an identity that needs to be preserved. Residents that have been here for generations do not want Oakland to become an extension of Silicon Valley or SoMa. This investment is great for downtown, but it is just the beginning and it requires strategic community engagement to help Oakland thrive into the future. #townbizness"

Karen Wertman, Co-Chair of 2.Oakland, Executive Producer of Vator Splash Oakland and VP of Operations for Port Workspaces: "We believe there is nowhere else where we a tech and innovation ecosystem ccan thrive with the vibrance and authenticity as it will in our city. Oakland’s history and legacy makes us uniquely qualified to have the exactly the kind of difficult conversations and develop the creative solutions that will ensure that the largest possible number of people will benefit from rising tide of positive regard and economic improvement the city and it’s people richly deserves.  

Do we care about retaining what makes Oakland ,Oakland? Passionately, 'yes.'  Does a large tech tenant such as Uber bring jobs and prosperity to downtown? Most definitely, and opportunity for significant non-tech job creation and challenges to provide affordable housing and not displace residents and the very real growing pains that a city that’s returning to economic prosperity must face. But do we believe that Uber itself, or a strong and inclusive tech economy, will 'strip its soul the way that it is doing in parts of San Francisco,' a fear suggested in the article in the SF Chronicle? I don’t think so.”

Bart Garrett,  Lead Pastor at Christ Church and the founder of Project Peace: “Oakland suffers from an affordable housing crisis. Displacement due to gentrification is prevalent, and sadly, has entrenched, long-term roots in overtly racist public housing policies that legislated segregation. This is a very tragic and sad part of our story, and we as Oaklanders need to own it! And God bless government representatives and non-profits that are tirelessly working to ensure that affordable housing is a priority in Oakland’s future and further development. With all of that by way of caveat, I’m not sure that a business locating in a business district and/or retail space is going to have an immense bearing on rising rents and displacing residents. The outcomes of growing industry and new jobs might actually counter-balance any negatives—this is always the difficult and delicate tension, right? 

The Bay Area loves entrepreneurs and cultural creatives and innovators. We are a start-up culture and this is inspiring! The flip side is that we are anti-institutional and anti-establishment. So, when these start-ups get too big and institutionalize, we protest and revolt: Google is violating my privacy rights! Facebook is commodifying my life! Uber is using surge prices to capitalize on calamities! Peets is now in the Cincinnati Airport for crying out loud! Let’s stick it to the man—I’m going to Philz now because there are only like 12 of them! I love it that we protest and revolt—but, perhaps, rather than protesting any and all business coming into Oakland we can level our revolt against inhumane, inequitable practices they might incorporate. Uber is guilty of its fair share and the Oakland citizenry could agitate with a not-in-my-backyard approach. We could urge Uber toward hiring Oakland residents, developing an affordable housing building, etc.”

Wes Selke, Managing Director and Founder of Better Ventures"I think overall this is a good thing for Oakland. It should bolster our brand as a place for tech companies to locate, catalyze our tech/startup ecosystem, and be a boon to our commercial real estate market. 'The world’s most valuable startup is coming to Oakland' is an appealing tag line. We welcome this kind of development, so long as we strive to preserve all the great things we love about Oakland that make our city unique – it’s beauty, diversity, and scrappiness."

Freada Kapor Klein, founder of the Level Playing Field Institute and Partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact: "We welcome Uber to Oakland's diverse and vibrant community. They will be based just two blocks from our own headquarters, so we look forward to working closely with them here. Uber engineers and other employees have already acted as volunteers and mentors at our Summer Math and Science Honors (SMASH) academies, and in programs like Brothers Code, both of which support students from underrepresented backgrounds to help them succeed and thrive in STEM.

Just imagine what a collaboration between Uber, Kapor Center, longstanding Oakland community groups, and other tech companies could build. Uber has proven it can think creatively about new models, so we'd be eager to work with them on new models for an Oakland tech ecosystem.”

Erik Moore, Managing Director of Base Ventures: "It's a phenomenally great thing. Kinda. To be sure, the net benefit to the economy is clear. But the less lazy question is (as is the case with most tech workforce) who else will benefit and at what cost? From where will the tech talent come and who will be incentivized to move to Oakland? The concern is that longtime non-tech industry residents are already feeling the housing squeeze (hella high ass rent in the West...for real bruh)?

Not unlike the Twitter example in San Francisco (Market Street/Measure E), things are complicated by decisions made regarding how monies will be allocated and for who's benefit.

Let's be clear, I am a capitalist. In fact, I am a Venture Capitalist... the best or worst kind! I like the idea of, and the prospects and promise and hope of, what this move could mean for helping to transform Oakland (which started back with Mayor Eliju Harris) even further. But I am from Richmond (Oakland's close 1st cousin) and I have certain sensibilities to my folks from the Town. I would simply ask that the people making this happen ponder the utility of offering tech workshops and coding classes to my friends who are challenged with drug addiction?

Go Uber!! And please be as wise and innovative in Oakland as you were with surge pricing."

Ezra Roizen, Partner with Ackrell Capital: "Uber’s move to Oakland is a great step along one dimension of the efforts to bring economic development to Oakland. It’s just the first of many employers to move from San Francisco, to Oakland.  However, this is only one dimension of what needs to be a multi-dimensional economic development program. Simply importing large scale enterprises isn’t enough.  We need an equally vibrant effort to “homegrow” businesses.  Particularly business which will provide a wide range of jobs, so that all members of the Oakland community can rise with the economic tide. 

I also have a challenge for Uber – to not just be “in” Oakland, but to be *part* of Oakland – to embody the creativity and diversity of this incredible city.  Let’s make Uber the showcase of what a world-class, inclusive, company can be! 

Welcome to Oakland folks!"

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